1709 Blog: for all the copyright community

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Culture Minister on copyright, with a warning to search engines

In the UK Parliament, copyright does not currently have a Ministerial advocate in the House of Commons, the procession of 8 IP ministers who have been in office in the last 7 years having been mostly members of the House of Lords, so it was interesting that at the 2014 AGM of the UK record industry trade association, the BPI (which this blogger was lucky enough to attend) on Monday 1 September, Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport but without an official copyright brief, chose to speak at length on copyright issues, putting forward some strong messages in support of key issues affecting copyright in the UK. 

He noted, as I am sure most 1709 readers know, the £4.5 billion scale of the UK creative industries, and crucially what the internet has meant to those industries. It has meant new ways of creating, sharing, buying and playing music digitally but also huge threats and, as the Culture Secretary stated 'theft, pure and simple', of copyrighted material. Theft being a word which will undoubtedly enrage many of a pedantic bent when used in this context.

The past year has seen various initiatives against piracy, from the increase in use of s97A blocking injunctions, to crucial case-law decisions at ECJ level, to new initiatives combatting piracy.  Javid covered many of these on Monday.

He first noted Creative Content UK (formerly known as VCAP) which takes the basic principles of graduated response behind the Digital Economy Act, but is instead an industry-led programme from an alliance between copyright holders and ISPs, which will send letters to individuals infringing copyright in various stages.  In hand with the graduated response part of Creative Content UK is the educational campaign to which the Government has committed £3.5 million explaining copyright to young people and those [allegedly?] naïve infringers who simply do not know they are infringing, or do not understand the business impact it is having.

Javid also mentioned the £2.5 million contribution to PIPCU, who are working with the industry to create the Infringing Website List as part of Operation Creative, to prevent brands from advertising on these illegal sites. Without revenue from advertising, there is no money, no incentive, and no business for the websites. [After his speech, the Minister was pressed to find further funding for the future operation of PIPCU, but he held the line that industry is expected to fund it going forward]

The Culture Secretary then focussed on search engines. According to the IFPI Digital Music Report 2014, 74% of infringers are introduced to pirate sites through a simple search. Search engines therefore have a role to make access to these sites harder. Javid acknowledged a debt to the report of Mike Weatherley MP on this topic and stated that he and Vince Cable have written to the big search engine providers (Google, Microsoft and Yahoo) asking them to work with the industry (following Google's protestations that they already do, and have responded to millions of takedowns requests).

Finally, on the search engine issue, he reassured the BPI that 'if we don't see real progress, we will be looking at a legislative approach'.  The creative industries will undoubtedly be pleased to see a senior minister grappling with these issues (even if legislation is a not wholly convincing threat 8 months away from a general election).

The full speech is available here

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